• Archaeology and the Bible, Jerusalem Comments Off on Were Solomon and Herod’s Temple in the City of David Over the Gihon Spring?

    This essay demonstrates that there is no historical, geographical, archaeological, topographical, geological, literary, or Biblical evidence that the Temples of King Solomon and Herod the Great were located over the Gihon Spring in the City of David as believed by a handful of proponents. It does affirm that the Temples were located on the historical Temple Mount.

    Read the full article here.

  • Archaeology and the Bible Comments Off on Tour of Biblical Greece with New York School of the Bible

    greece-tourNew York School of the Bible (NYSB) is sponsoring a study tour of Biblical Greece. The emphasis will be on the cities and places that were visited by the Apostle Paul and his co-workers, as well as sites that have an indirect bearing on the Biblical text.

    Gordon Franz will be leading the tour of Biblical Greece March 15-25, 2016 for the unbelievable price of $2,499. Please join us.

    For further information, download the information brochure.

  • Archaeology and the Bible Comments Off on THE 2014 ABR STUDY TOUR OF BIBLICAL GREECE

    by Gordon Franz

    The 2014 Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) Study Tour of Biblical Greece is, as they say, history. Biblical Greece is more than just the sites visited by the Apostle Paul and his teams when he was on his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th missionary journeys. The Apostle Peter was in Greece on several occasions. Events associated with the books of Daniel and Esther in the Hebrew Scriptures also occurred in Greece. In the background were three kings: Xerxes; Philip II; and Alexander the Great. The ABR study-tour was a learning experience for one and all, myself included.

    We had 23 people in the tour group, plus the two hosts: Robert Sullivan, the president of the ABR board, and myself.  The average age of the group was about 70 years old, so we moved a bit slower than I am used to. But even with our diversity of backgrounds and age, we blended well as a family.

    We also had an excellent tour guide, James Nikolopoulous. James is a young, energetic, and very knowledgeable guide. He also has a great sense of humor. This was the second time I worked with him and it was again a delight. We “tag-teamed” on the teaching and complimented each other well.

    I will not bore you with a stop-by-stop description of everything we did at each site, but rather, will highlight some of the more unusual things we got to do. When we got off the plane in Thessaloniki the first thing I noticed was the warm sunshine, clear blue skies, green grass, and profusion of wildflowers! After a long and brutal winter in the northeast, these were welcomed sights! 🙂

    On our first two nights we stayed at the Hotel Lydia on the edge of Philippi (Acts 16:12-40). This hotel was chosen because of location – location – location. At the end of our first day of touring we were scheduled to hike to the top of the Acropolis of Philippi. I think our jet-lag caught up with us! Instead, I walked around the walls of ancient Philippi.

    On the second day we stopped at the ancient site of Amphipolis (Acts 17:1). Usually tour buses only stop at the famous lion of Amphipolis, but we visited the museum and the acropolis as well. This was only the second time I had visited the latter two and was able to discern some Biblical associations that will be helpful for an article that I am writing on the ancient city of Amphipolis. There are on-going excavations at a large tumulus near the site that may produce some very important discoveries, but patience is the order of the day. After, we stopped at Apollonia (Acts 17:1). Only a few squares have been excavated at this site, but there is really nothing to see. At least we could say, like the Apostle Paul: “Been there, done that!”

    At Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great and the capital of ancient Macedonia, Rob Sullivan gave a discourse on Macedonia (Greece) in the book of Daniel. Hundreds of years before Alexander the Great was born, the prophet Daniel predicted Alexander’s role in human history.

    There was a large Jewish community living in Berea (Verea in modern Greek) up until World War II. During the war, a number of the Jews were taken to concentration camps. Today there is only one synagogue left in the city and a small Jewish community. We happened to visit the synagogue on Shabbat and much to my surprise, the door was open. There was a small group of Israelis visiting the synagogue so we got to visit it as well. I sang the Shema (Deut. 6:4) while inside.

    Our guide told us an interesting account that appeared in a Greek newspaper in the 1950’s. According to the article a 2nd century BC Torah scroll was taken from the synagogue of Berea during World War II. After the war the scroll was bought by a Jewish philanthropist. In the margin of this Torah Scroll was a notation that Rabbi Sha’ul from Jerusalem visited the synagogue, a reference to the Apostle Paul (Acts 17:10-15). I am planning to follow-up on this article and write up my observations.

    We visited the site of the battle of Thermopylae between the 300 Spartan soldiers and the Persian army in 480 BC. The topography of the battle became clear when we stood on the site and saw the terrain. There is nothing like seeing a site first hand to help visualize the battle and history. This is especially true with Biblical sites and Bible history. A few days later we took a water-taxi ride from Piraeus, the commercial harbor of Athens, to Salamis and were able to see the geographical setting for the famous battle of Salamis, the battle that changed the course of western civilization. This battle stopped the Persian advance into Greece in 480 BC. Biblically, this event took place before three words in the book of Esther: “After these things” (Esther 2:1a).

    All the national parks in Greece were closed on Independence Day (March 25). Because of that, we had to leave Delphi, the home of the famous temple of Apollo, out of our original program. Thanks to our driver, Christos, and guide, James, we were able to rearrange our original schedule and put Delphi back into the program. That was a bonus because we got to see the important Gallio inscription in the museum (cf. Acts 18:12), as well as the excavations.

    A short stop at the Church of St. Luke in Thebes allowed us to discuss the ministry of Dr. Luke, the gospel that bears his name, and the book of Acts. Recently a rib-bone, presumably from Dr. Luke, was returned to Thebes from Italy. Sorry, but that’s another story, for another time! 🙂

    Corinth was a busy day. Our first stop was Isthmia and we discussed the Apostle Paul’s use of athletic terminology; then hiked to the top of the Acrocorinth and visited the shrine to Aphrodite and enjoyed a spectacular view of the region. The important inscription of Erastus was visited as well as the museum and excavations of Corinth. Recently the Bema was repaired and reopened so tourists can walk up and stand where Gallio passed judgment on the Apostle Paul (Acts 18:12-17).

    Our final two days were taken up with touring in Athens and also some book shopping.

    We flew Turkish Airlines to and from Greece. The service was excellent. It is no wonder they have been chosen the best airline in Europe three years running. They deserved it. Service was their priority.

  • Archaeology and the Bible Comments Off on DEAD SEA SCROLLS: LIFE AND FAITH IN BIBLICAL TIMES at Discovery Times Square, New York City (A Christian Perspective)

    by Gordon Franz

    The fantastic Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Biblical Times exhibition at the Discovery Times Square building in New York City is about more than just the Dead Sea Scrolls; it is about daily life in the Biblical world. The subtitle — “Life and Faith in Biblical Times” — says it all. The exhibition runs until April 15, 2012, in New York City, and then, in May 2012, it will be at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, where it will run for another five months.

    The Bible is more than just another book with black (and sometimes red) letters on a page. The Bible is about real people, in real places, experiencing real events in history. Sometimes, because of our twenty-first century Western mindset and experiences, it is difficult to imagine how people lived in Biblical times. For example, the LORD metaphorically searched Jerusalem with lamps (Zeph. 1:12). When we think of a lamp, we think of a stand with a shade and a socket with an electric light bulb that illuminates when a switch is flipped. In the Biblical world there was no electricity, only olive oil and a wick to light the oil lamp. This exhibition will give you an idea of what those lamps actually looked like.

    Through the exhibition you will get a glimpse into the material culture of the Biblical world and add a third dimension to your Bible study! You will also be able to experience “Oh, now I see [literally] what the Bible is talking about” moments!

    As an archaeologist and a Bible teacher, I was fascinated by the whole exhibition, which is on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). I was able to view some of the latest archaeological discoveries from Israel for the first time, objects that I had only read about in the newspapers or in the archaeological journals. The last time the IAA sent such a large display of antiquities to New York City was to the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the winter of 1986-87. Hopefully, it will not be another 25 years before the IAA sends another collection to the Big Apple! Let’s enjoy this one while we can.

    A Guide for a Self-Guided Tour
    I have written a 39-page guide specifically for an Evangelical Christian audience, but others will find it helpful as well. The guide can be used for a self-guided tour of the exhibition by home-schooled students, Christian school classes, Bible study groups, Sunday school classes, church youth groups, and individuals who are interested in the world of the Bible. Please feel free to download the guide and visit this incredible collection of rare objects from Israel that illustrates life and faith in Biblical times.

    Get your Self-Guided Tour Here

    Where, When, and How Much?
    The Discovery Times Square exhibition hall is located at 226 West 44th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, in New York City. The hall is across the street from the Shubert Theatre and also a parking garage. Please note that West 44th Street is one-way going east so, if you are driving, Discovery Times Square must be approached from 8th Avenue, which is a one-way street going north.

    The exhibition is open Sunday to Thursday, 10 AM through 8 PM and Friday and Saturday from 10 AM through 9 PM. The last entry is one hour before closing. The exhibition will run until April 15, 2012 and then it will relocate to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and run for five months beginning in May 2012.

    Ticket prices are $25 for adults, $22.50 for seniors and $19.50 for children. You can order tickets over the Discovery Time’s Square’s Wed site, or buy tickets at the window at the entrance. A group rate is available for groups of ten or more people. To purchase group tickets or to find out more details, please call 855-266-5387, or send an E-mail to groupinfo@tsxnyc.com

    For a $5 discount off the ticket price, click here for the flyer. This flyer can be used to purchase up to 8 tickets at a time and is good for every day of the week except holidays.

    Headsets are available for an audio tour of select objects with commentary by Professor Lawrence Shiffman of Yeshiva University; Professor Bill Dever, retired from Arizona State University; and Professor Ronnie Reich of Haifa University and the Israel Antiquities Authority. Headsets may be rented for $7 apiece.

    Discovery Times Square Website:

    For pictures of some of the objects on display:

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  • Archaeology and the Bible Comments Off on SIFTING DIRT, FILLING SANDBAGS, AND SHAUL JUNIOR: Reflections on the 2011 Season at Tel Zayit, Israel

    by Gordon Franz

    Who would have thought that a small Judean city on the western fringes of the Kingdom of Israel, facing Philistia, might provide a partial answer to the question posed in the December 2010 issue of National Geographic: “Was the Kingdom of David and Solomon a glorious empire – or just a little cow town?” (Draper 2010)?

    Between June 13 and July 15, 2011, I worked on the archaeological excavation at Tel Zayit (Zeitah) in the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah. The site is 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Jerusalem and situated in the Beth Guvrin Valley system. Compared to some of the larger sites in the area, at 7.5 acres, Tel Zayit is a small site.  It has been identified by the excavators as the ancient city of Libnah (Josh. 15:42; Tappy 2008). The excavation was sponsored by Pittsburgh Theological Seminary under the directorship of Professor Ron E. Tappy. I was also one of the recipients of the Biblical Archaeological Society travel scholarships, for which I am very grateful.

    Surprise, Surprise, Surprise
    One of the goals for this season was to reach the 8th century BC level in Area K-20. If we reached the floor level of that period, there would be plenty of dirt to sift. I have a lot of sifting experience from working at the Temple Mount Sifting Project and on digs at Lachish and Hazor. I was also keenly interested in this period because my master’s thesis was on the Hezekiah/Sennacherib chronology problem. So, one of my jobs for the summer was sifting the buckets of dirt from K-20.

    We began the season at the Early Hellenistic level. A vertical probe (1 meter x 2 meters) from previous seasons was extended in an attempt to reach the Iron Age level. I sifted every bucket of dirt that came out of that probe. Early on, I found a small piece of shiny black pottery that I knew was Greek Attic ware. I showed it to Goby Barkay, and he said, “This is bad! This Attic ware is from the Persian period.” As PFC Gomer Pyle, USMC, used to say in his southern twang, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!!!” Instead of hitting the Late Iron Age (7th/8th century BC) as we had anticipated, we hit floors from the Persian period (6th century BC). Finding this layer came as a surprise, because prior to this discovery, no coherent Persian period stratum had been found at Tel Zayit. Reaching the Late Iron Age period level will have to wait for another season.

    Last Bucket, Last Day!
    One of the axioms of archaeology is that all the goodies are found on the last day. That axiom seemed to be confirmed when a large stone that had an abecedary (ancient alphabet) on it was discovered on the last day of the 2005 season (Tappy, et al. 2006). This season, one of the volunteers had to go home a week early. She was clearing a Persian period floor, and I was sifting every bucket that she handed up to me. In her last bucket at the end of her last day, I found a spiny dye-murex shell (Bolinus brandaris). This type of shell was used for dyeing red-purple cloth such as the famous Tyrian purple (Ziderman 1990).

    Terracotta-Sandbag Soldiers!
    Almost every excavation in Israel uses sandbags to hold up their baulks and frame the squares for final photography. This innovation was introduced in 1974 at Lachish by Dr. David Ussishkin after having observed the benefits of sandbags in a foxhole in the Jordan Valley during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. A baulk, sometimes spelled balk, is the “vertical face of the wall of soil left around a trench or between squares in an excavation (usually 0.5-1 meter wide)” (Stern 2008: 2131). The baulk gives a vertical profile of the stratigraphy.

    One of my other jobs was filling sandbags for use at the end of the season. We needed sandbags to frame the 10 x 10 meter square of K-20 as well as to hold down the tarps that are used to cover all the areas for the winter. I used “clean” dirt from the sifting area of our dump. Because the dirt had already been sifted and all pottery, coins, and other objects had been removed, there will be no chance of finding a cuneiform tablet in one of those sandbags next season, which did occur at another excavation in the past!

    Over the course of three weeks, I filled over 300 burlap sandbags in preparation for the final week. I lined them up in straight rows of 20 sandbags per row. I was a bit amused to see the Sky View photographers, a team specializing in aerial photography from a blimp, taking pictures of the rows of sandbags. Dr. Zvi Lederman, the co-director of the Beth Shemesh excavation, also took pictures of the sandbags when he visited Tel Zayit. He quipped, “They look like the terracotta-soldiers in China!” Dr. Tappy and I looked at each other and laughed. I had been calling them terracotta-sandbag soldiers all season! The terracotta soldiers were clay funerary statues found at the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, who died about 210 BC. In 1974, over 8,000 clay warriors, lined up in rows, were discovered.

    Pop Quiz
    For all the budding archaeologists reading this article, here is a pop quiz. Why do archaeologists always look down when they are walking? Answer: Because small objects can be found on the surface. I was constantly looking on the surface for goodies. I was not disappointed. Among other things, I found half a glass bead; a bronze weight for measuring gold that might have an inscription, but we won’t know for certain until it is cleaned; and a coin, possibly from the Hellenistic period.

    The Answer Lies in the Baulk
    Another axiom of archaeology is that the answer always lies in the baulk. This summer that axiom was proven true again in one of the baulks of O-19. The famous abecedary was found in Area O-19 and dated by Professors Ron Tappy and Kyle McCarter to the mid-tenth century BC. They concluded their publication of this important discovery by saying: “The appearance of an abecedary in an outlying town some distance from the capital city of Jerusalem demonstrates a movement toward literacy in the extreme western frontier of the kingdom during the mid-tenth century B.C.E.” (Tappy, et al. 2006: 42). That statement has far-reaching implications for the question raised by the National Geographic article.

    The leader of the minimalist school (those who deny the historicity of the Bible), Israel Finkelstein, wrote a rebuttal to Tappy’s and McCarter’s article and suggested that the “Tel Zayit abecedary is a ‘Philistian’ inscription of the second half of the 9th century B.C.E.” (2008: 1). The challenge of the date had to be answered so Dr. Tappy decided to excavate the baulk on the side of Area O-19 in order to clarify the dating of the stratigraphy.

    The baulk measured ten meters long, one meter wide, and a half meter high. Most excavations would have removed that baulk in thirty minutes or less so they could get on with their dig. Not Tel Zayit. It took four diggers two weeks to meticulously and methodically excavate the half-meter depth of the baulk! I think this will be the best-documented baulk in the archaeology of the Land of Israel, because everything was carefully recorded, drawn, and photographed. There were restorable pottery vessels from the 10th century and organic material that will be tested by Carbon-14 dating method to ascertain the date of the destruction level. When the details about this baulk are published by Dr. Tappy, the minimalists will have to seriously rethink and reconsider their position in light of the finds from this well-documented and meticulous excavation.

    Shaul Junior
    For the previous nine summers, I worked at Tel Hazor. One of the notable people on that dig was Shaul. He drove the van, did the shopping, prepared breakfast, maintained the tools, and did a host of other tasks. Sometimes I would accompany him and help him with his tasks. Little did I know that one day I would be doing a similar job. One of the other hats I wore at Tel Zayit was van driver. Every day I drove the diggers from Kibbutz Galon, where we were staying, to the site and back, got the breakfast and helped set out the buffet breakfast, and drove the volunteers to Kiryat Gat in order to take care of any personal business. I think I learned my job well from watching and helping Shaul. In my mind, I was Shaul Junior!

    Gourmet Food
    In previous years, my friend Goby Barkay had raved about the food that they ate at the Tel Zayit dig. He said they had a South African kibbutznik named Mike who was a gourmet chef and had served gourmet food at all three meals. When I was considering working at Tel Zayit, the gourmet food was a good selling point. Needless to say, I was not disappointed with Mike’s cooking. The food was excellent whether you were a carnivore or a vegetarian!

    Out and About
    On weekends we were “free” to do as we pleased. Dr. Tappy arranged two study tours for us. The first weekend tour was to the Negev and the Dead Sea. I passed on that trip. The second study tour was to the Galilee. I joined the group for this trip, and we visited Caesarea by the Sea, Megiddo, Beth Shean, Capernaum, and the Mount of Beatitudes on the first day. On the second day, we explored Hazor, Dan, Caesarea Philippi, Omrit, and the Arbel Cliffs.

    On another weekend we visited two nearby sites: Lachish and Maresha. Toward the end of our dig we visited Tel es-Safi and got a guided tour of the site by the director, Dr. Aren Maeir. I think our visit was right before they found the important two-horned altar so we did not see it. One of our diggers asked Dr. Maeir when he was going to retire. His answer was a classic: “Only when archaeology is not fun anymore!”

    David in a Cave – Psalm 57
    One of my goals for this summer was to revisit the sites in the Shephelah and to solidify in my mind the topography of that region and the Biblical stories that took place there. A friend of mine had a Nissan Largo that went anywhere and everywhere, even up the dirt roads on the side of ancient mounds!

    One of the sites I wanted to revisit was the cave at Adullam. Each morning I made it a point to read Psalm 57. The superscription says, “A Michtam of David when he fled from Saul into the cave.” The historical accounts in the Bible state that David was in a cave on at least two occasions. The first time he was in a cave was at Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-2; 2 Sam. 23:13-17) and the second time was when he was in the area of Ein Gedi (1 Sam. 24:3-22). Most likely this psalm was composed when David was at the cave at Adullam. The preceding psalm, Psalm 56, was composed after David fled from Gath of the Philistines, just before he stopped at Adullam. One Shabbat (Saturday) I was able to get out to the site and review the geography of the area, which explains the reason David fled there in the first place. Hopefully, I will finish an essay on this psalm and post it on my website soon.

    Summary and Thank You
    There were no spectacular small finds at Tel Zayit this summer. The most important discovery, however, was a clearer understanding of the stratigraphy of the site. In K-20 it was the newly discovered Persian period level as well as another phase of the Roman period. In O-19 all indications point to the abecedary being clearly dated to the 10th century BC. If this date is correct, it would demonstrate that Israelites living in this out-of-the-way city were literate and, therefore, not a bunch of hillbillies living in some little cow town!

    There were twenty people, including volunteers and staff, working on the excavation. It was a pleasure working with this team. Everybody worked well together, and the most commonly used phrase was “thank you.” Even the smallest things that someone would do for another were appreciated. So “THANK YOU” Dr. Tappy and team for a great season.


    Draper, Robert
    2010    Kings of Controversy. National Geographic 218/6: 66-91.

    Finkelstein, Israel; Sass, Benjamin; and Singer-Avitz, Lily
    2008    Writing in Iron IIA Philistia in the Light of the Tel Zayit/Zeta Abecedary. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palastina-Vereins 124: 1-14.

    Stern, Ephraim, ed.
    2008   The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Vol. 5. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society; Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society.

    Tappy, Ron
    2008    Tel Zayit. Pp. 2082-2083 The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Vol. 5. Edited by E. Stern. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society; Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society.

    Tappy, Ron; McCarter, P. Kyle; Lundberg, Marilyn; and Zuckerman, Bruce
    2006    An Abecedary of the Mid-Tenth Century B.C.E. from the Judean
    Shephelah. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 344: 5-46.

    Ziderman, I. Irving
    1990    Seashells and Ancient Purple Dyeing.  Biblical Archaeologist 53/2: 98-101.


    by Gordon Franz

    The Lord, in His permissive will, allowed Satan to afflict “a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and the man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1, all Scripture quotes from the New King James Bible).

    The Patriarch Job lived in the Land of Uz (Job 1:1), which is synonymous with the territory of Edom (Lam. 4:21). The Land of Edom was situated on both sides of the Aravah, the strip of land between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akaba / Eilat (Crew 2002: 2-10).

    Job and his three friends; Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, were completely unaware of the ultimate cause of Job’s afflictions. As they dialogued back and forth trying to discern why Job was suffering (Job 3-31), Job expressed his faith in God as his Redeemer and his confidence in the ultimate resurrection of the body. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my flesh is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  Now my heart yearns within me!” (19:25-27).

    In this essay, I would like to explore the possibility that there might be some overlooked archaeological evidence for the concept of the resurrection of the body during the period of the Patriarch Job.

    Chalcolithic Ossuary Jars
    In the standard archaeological chronology, the Chalcolithic period is dated from 6,400 to 3,600 BC (Stern 2008:5:2126). I believe that these chronological dates need to be revised downward in order to conform to the Biblical Chronology.  Since there was a catastrophic, worldwide Flood in Noah’s Day, all the archaeological strata would be Post-Flood. The Patriarchs, including Job, should be set archaeologically in the Chalcolithic period and Early Bronze age.

    In an intriguing study of Chalcolithic ossuary jars by Assaf Nativ of Tel Aviv University, he suggested the possibility that some of the ossuary jars function as models of cocoons and are symbols of metamorphosis (2008:209-214). He observed that ossuary jars are oval in shape with an aperture [opening] down the shoulder of the vessel. The top is domed and has a knob on top. He concluded that the “general form … of the ossuary jar bear some close similarities to a range of cocoons, particularly those of butterflies. The vessel itself resembles the encapsulating shell and the knob the cremaster – the part holding the body of the cocoon to the twig or branch from which it hangs. Further allusions to cocoons may be found in the patterns of decoration found on some of the ossuary jars. These may represent the ‘ribs’ discernable upon some cocoons surfaces, vegetal motifs alluding to the milieu in which they dwell, and possibly even patterns of butterfly wings” (2008:210).

    The Metamorphosis of the Butterfly and Ossuary Jars
    The butterfly is an insect that undergoes complete metamorphosis. The larva (caterpillar) turns into a pupa (cocoon) and during this stage; the larva is liquefied and then rebuilt into a beautiful butterfly when it emerges from the cocoon.

    The Hebrew word ‘ash is translated butterfly or moth. Job knew these insects (Job 4:19; 13:28; 27:18), as did the psalmist (Psalm 39:11), and the prophets (Isa. 50:9; 51:8; Hos. 5:12).

    Nativ has observed that the “place of the cocoon within the life cycle of the butterflies affords a powerful metaphor for utter metamorphosis, whereby the tissues of one form are liquefied and rearranged to bring about an entirely new being.” He goes on to suggest that the “deposition of human skeletal remains in a model of a cocoon alludes to the physical transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly.” His suggested conclusion is that the “use made of ossuary jars in mortuary contexts during the Chalcolithic period symbolizes the cocoon and alluded to the physical and qualitative metamorphosis characteristic of the butterfly’s life-cycle. It is interesting to note in this regards that the reference to the cocoon, the inert and ‘lifeless’ phase, rather than the emerging butterfly, seems to emphasize the transformation proper rather than the actual emergence. Perhaps only the potential is certain, while the completion of the transformation and re-emergence are not guaranteed” (2008:212).

    Of his analysis, Nativ states: “whether ossuary jars function as model cocoons and symbols of metamorphosis cannot be proven, nor can it be easily dismissed” (2008:213).

    The Patriarch Job and the Resurrection
    In the ancient world, death was not the cessation of life, but rather, a transfer from one state to another. The Patriarch Job, most likely set in the Chalcolithic period, expresses his confidence in the resurrection of the body: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my flesh is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  Now my heart yearns within me!” (19:25-27).

    In this passage he expresses his confidence that his Redeemer God is alive and well and shall one day in the future stand on the earth. Job also recognizes that his own body will die and there will be a time period before his eyes, in a new body, shall behold his God.

    The Chalcolithic people expressed this concept of death and their hope in the resurrection by their act of secondary burial. The body died, the flesh decayed, the bones were gathered and placed in cocoon-like ossuaries awaiting the great transformation (metamorphosis) of the body at the resurrection.

    The Conclusion of the Matter
    The Apostle Paul describes what happens to the physical body after death in 1 Corinthians 15.

    So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (15:42-57).

    After Job died, his children gathered his bones and placed them in an ossuary, possibly an ossuary jar that looked like a cocoon, waiting the day when he, in his glorified body, shall see his Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, face to face. Job, in his life, exemplified the admonition that the Apostle Paul gave to the Corinthian believers in light of the resurrection of the body from the dead: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (15:58).


    Crew, Bruce
    2002    Did Edom’s Original Territories Extend West of ‘Wadi Arabah?  Bible and Spade 15/1: 2-10.

    Nativ, Assaf
    2008    A Note on Chalcolithic Ossuary Jars: A Metaphor for Metamorphosis.  Tel Aviv 35/2: 209-214.

  • Archaeology and the Bible, Jerusalem Comments Off on SIGNED, SEALED, AND DELIVERED: An Archaeological Exposition of Jeremiah 32:1-15

    by Gordon Franz

    This essay is dedicated to Dr. Gabriel “Goby” Barkay and Zachi Zweig, co-directors of the Temple Mount Sifting Project; and to the tens of thousands who have sifted the dirt from the Holy Hill of Zion (Psalm 102:14)

    It is always the archaeologist’s dream to find inscriptional material, such as a seal, bulla, stela, ostraca, clay tablet, papyrus, scroll, or even just graffiti on a wall.  In Israel, an inscription is a rare find, and some are revealed to be forgeries.

    In the summer of 2005, the Jerusalem Post reported the discovery of a tenth-century wall in the City of David in Jerusalem by Dr. Eilat Mazar.  One of her area supervisors also discovered a bulla (a dried lump of clay with a seal impression on it) of an individual named “Jerucal ben [son of] Shelemiah ben [son of] Shevi.”  The name of this person appears in Jeremiah 37:3 and 38:1.  This seal impression adds a detail that the Bible does not mention: the name of his grandfather, Shevi (Lefkovits 2005:13; Mazar 2007:67-69).

    In this essay we will examine the command that God gave to Jeremiah to redeem a field from his cousin, Hanamel of Anathoth.  Particular attention will be given to the archaeological background to this chapter and how it illustrates the Biblical text.  Jeremiah’s obedience to God’s command, in spite of a hopeless situation, was a vivid lesson to the people of Judah that God would return His people from the Babylonian captivity.  Jeremiah had publicly proclaimed to the people of Judah that God would restore them to the land after 70 years of captivity in Babylon.  Jeremiah’s faith in the promise of God was shown by buying the field at Anathoth, a city already destroyed by the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was literally putting his money where his mouth was!

    Jeremiah Redeems a Field in Anathoth as a Sign of Future Redemption (32:1-15)

    The Time Setting.  32:1, 2
    The date that is given in this chapter is the tenth year of Zedekiah and the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar (32:1).  This date would be in 587 BC.  Two deportations of Judeans to Babylon had already taken place (605 BC and 598 BC).  In the tenth year of Zedekiah, the Babylonians were besieging Jerusalem (32:2).  Jeremiah was in the court of the prison in the king’s house, possibly on the Western Hill.

    In the preceding two chapters (Jer. 30 and 31), Jeremiah forewarned the Judeans of the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah as well as the Babylonian captivity.  But he also predicted that the people would return to the land of Judah.  For this reason, these chapters have been called the “book of consolation” or “book of hope” (cf. Jer. 30:2).  At least nine times he predicts that the people of Judah will return to the land (30:10,11, 30:18, 31:3-6, 31:7-9, 31:10-12, 31:16,17, 31:18, 31:23,24).

    King Zedekiah complains of Jeremiah’s prophecies.  32:3-5
    The Prophet Jeremiah was not a popular preacher.  He did not say to the people of Judah that God did not care about their lifestyle and that they could go on living in their sins.  Nor did he say that the Babylonians were a peace-loving people with only good intentions toward Jerusalem and Judah.  King Zedekiah understood the words of the prophet: First, the LORD was going to use the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem (32:3; cf. 21:4-6); second, King Zedekiah would attempt to flee from the Babylonians but he would be captured and taken to see King Nebuchadnezzar face to face (32:4; cf. 21:7); and finally, King Zedekiah would be taken captive to Babylon (32:5a).  Jeremiah also added that it would be futile to fight the Babylonian army (32:5b).

    King Zedekiah did not like Jeremiah’s “doom-and-gloom” preaching.  Yet everything Jeremiah said was based on the Mosaic Law as recorded in the Torah.  As history unfolded, everything Jeremiah said in his seven encounters with King Zedekiah (Jer. 21:1-7, 32:1-5, 34:1-7, 37:1-15, 37:16-21, 38:1-6, 38:14-28) came to pass (2 Kings 25:4-7; Jer. 39:1-10).  What Jeremiah had not told him was that his sons would be killed and his eyes would be put out by the Babylonians.

    Jeremiah recounts the story of redeeming a field in Anathoth.  32:6-15

    The city of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown, is located 4 kilometers (2½ miles) to the north of the Temple Mount in the tribal territory of Benjamin (cf. Josh. 18:11-28; Jer. 1:1, 11:21-23, 29:27, 32:7-9; Hareuveni 1991).  It was also a Levitical city (Josh. 21:18).  Two of David’s mighty men, Abiezar and Jehu, came from this city (2 Sam. 23:27; 1 Chron. 11:28, 12:3, 27:12).  A high priest, Abiathar, was exiled to his estate in the city (1 Kings 2:26).  During the Syro-Ephraimite Campaign, Anathoth was a target for the invading army (Isa. 10:30).  After the Babylonian exile, some of the people of Anathoth returned to their hometown, just as Jeremiah had prophesized (Ezra 2:23; Neh. 7:27, 11:32).

    Jeremiah was in prison when the Lord spoke to him and said that his cousin, Hanamel, was going to visit and ask Jeremiah to buy his field in Anathoth (32:6-7).  Jeremiah realized it was the hand of the Lord when Hanamel, the son of Shallum, showed up and asked Jeremiah to redeem his field in Anathoth partially based on the laws recorded in Leviticus 25:23-28.  Jeremiah might have been aware that Anathoth had already fallen to the Babylonians (cf. 32:25).  He redeemed the field because God commanded him to do so, rather than thinking: “This must be some cruel joke by my relatives who plotted to kill me a few years ago along with the men of Anathoth (Jer. 11:18-23). Now they are trying to sell me this field after the Babylonians destroyed the city.  What a scam!”  God commanded him to buy the field so that Judah would have a sign that they would one day return from captivity in Babylon.

    In verses 9-15 the transaction is recorded in detail.  The first thing Jeremiah did was to weigh out the 17 shekels of silver scraps in order to buy the field (32:9).  During the Iron Age, money – minted coins – had not yet been invented.  So the shekels of silver would have been a weight of silver, not coins.  Today, we would call it “junk silver,” e.g., broken pieces of a silver ring, silverware, old silver coins.  In 1968, the largest hoard of junk silver ever discovered was in five Iron Age vessels in the ancient city of Eshtemoa in the Judean Hills.  These vessels contained a total of 27.21 kilograms (62 pounds) of junk silver (Yeivin 1987:38-44).

    One shekel of silver weighed 11.33 grams (Kletter 1991:122,134).  Jeremiah would have purchased the land for about 182.61 grams (0.182 kilograms) of silver.  To give the American reader a contemporary perspective, that amount of silver would be equivalent to 73 Mercury-head dimes worth of silver.  Keep in mind; however, there is not a speck of silver in the dimes currently being minted because they have been debased by the federal government!

    Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding the transaction are not known.  One cannot conclude that the land was worth $7.30; the amount of silver used to purchase the land is equal to the amount of silver in 73 Mercury-head dimes, but its value is not.  Therefore, we have no idea what the value of silver was at the time or whether its value was inflated because of the siege.  We also do not know the size of the field being purchased or its market value.  All we know for certain is that Jeremiah paid 17 shekels for that field.

    Jeremiah put 17 stone shekel weights on a pan on one side of the scale and proceeded to put seventeen shekels of silver scraps on a pan on the other side until the scale was balanced (32:10).  During the 1977 season at the excavations of Tel Lachish, half of a balance beam from a scale was discovered in Stratum IV of Area S, dated to the middle of the eighth century BC.  It was made of ivory, or polished bone, and was 10.1 cm (4 inches) long.  If it were complete, then it would be about 20 cm (8 inches) long.  The only other balance beam to be found in an archaeological excavation was at Megiddo (Barkay 1996:75-82).

    To finalize the land purchase, two “purchase deeds” were written up:  an open one and a sealed one (32:10-14).  The deeds were identical, but, in case of a dispute, the sealed one was the one that was binding.  The sealed deed was put in a safe place so it could be opened if there was a problem.  Probably, the transaction information, including the price of the sale, a description of the field being sold, and the identity of the buyer and seller were recorded on the document, which was papyrus.  One deed was rolled up and tied with a string.  A lump of clay was then placed on the string, and an impression was made with a seal that contained the owner’s name and possibly his title.  This clay impression is known as a bulla (plural bullae).  Although it is not stated in the text, the witnesses to the transaction might have added their bullae as well (Avigad 1986:125-127; Shiloh 1986:36-38; for illustrations as to how the deed might have been sealed: Avigad 1986:123, Fig. 4; Brandl 2000:60, Fig. 6; 63, Fig. 9).

    The deeds were handed to Baruch the son of Neriah the son of Mahseiah for safe keeping.  A bulla with the inscription “(Belonging) to Berekhyahu son of Neriyahu the scribe” was discovered in a non-provenanced hoard of bullae and published by Professor Nahman Avigad (1978, 1979, and 1986).  A second, identical bulla is in a private collection (Shanks 1996:36-38).  Baruch is the shortened form of the name Berekhyahu.  Most likely this bulla was used by Baruch to seal documents when he was a royal scribe before 605/604 BC.  Avigad suggests that “Baruch seems eventually to have left his official position [of royal scribe] and joined Jeremiah in his struggle against the pro-Egyptian, anti-Babylonian policy of the court, a policy which was soon to lead to the destruction of Jerusalem” (1986:130).  A word of caution is in order: recently one scholar identified these two bullae as forgeries (Rollston 2003:161), but there is still a scholarly debate as to their authenticity.

    Jeremiah instructed Baruch to take both purchase deeds and place them in an earthen vessel so they would be preserved for a long time (32:13-14).  During the 1982 season at the City of David excavations in Jerusalem, 51 bullae (later revised to 53) were discovered in Locus 967 in Area G.  This is the “first time that so large a group of easily legible Hebrew sealings has come to light in a controlled excavation, in a clear stratigraphic context and accompanied by architectural, ceramic and historical evidence” (Shiloh 1986:16-17).  On the floor of what is now known as the “House of the Bullae” were found “two vessels of uncommon form – tall kraters with high trumpet bases.  The latter are distinguished by their exceptionally high-quality slip and wheel-burnish covering the entire body.  At the base of the body is a drainage (?) hole, made prior to firing” (Shiloh 1986:23-24; Fig. 6:2-3; Pl. 6A).  The excavator, Yigal Shiloh, suggested the possibility that these two kraters “may have served for storage of the papyri, the bullae from which were found scattered around them” (1986:36).  This collection of bullae dates to the end of the seventh and beginning of the sixth centuries BC, which would make them contemporary with the Prophet Jeremiah (Shoham 2000:30).


    Jeremiah paid 17 shekels of silver to redeem his cousin’s field in Anathoth.  He signed the land deed, sealed it with his personal seal, which the witnesses probably did as well, and then delivered the deed to his confidant Baruch for safe keeping in a clay vessel, most likely in an administrative archive.  This account ends with the promise from the Lord that “Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land” (32:15).
    The situation looked bleak, because the Babylonians were about to destroy Jerusalem and take the Judeans captive to Babylon.  Jeremiah, however, rested in the promise of God and proclaimed that the people would return to their land and rebuild their cities.  He put his money where his mouth was by redeeming his cousin’s field.
    Perhaps one day, archaeologists will find a bulla or seal with the name of Jeremiah the prophet on it in a controlled archaeological excavation!


    Avigad, Nahman
    1978    Baruch the Scribe and Jerahmeel the King’s Son.  Israel Exploration Journal 28: 52-56.

    1979    Jerahmeel and Baruch.  King’s Son and Scribe. Biblical Archaeologist 42: 114-118.

    1986    Hebrew Bullae From the Time of Jeremiah.  Remnants of a Burnt Archive. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.

    Barkay, Gabriel
    1996    A Balance Beam from Tel Lachish.  Tel Aviv 23/1: 75-82.

    Brandl, Baruch
    2000    Bullae with Figurative Decoration.  Pp. 58-74 in Excavations at the City of David 1978-1985 Directed by Yigal Shiloh.  Final Report VI.  Inscriptions.  Edited by D. T. Ariel.  Qedem 41.  Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University.

    Hareuveni, Nogah
    1991    Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage.  Kiryat Ono, Israel: Neot Kedumim.

    Kletter, Raz
    1991    The Inscribed Weights of the Kingdom of Judah.  Tel Aviv 18/2: 121-163.

    Lefkovits, Etgar
    2005    Shards of Evidence.  The Jerusalem Post August 11.  Page 13.

    Mazar, Eilat
    2007    Preliminary Report on the City of David Excavations 2005 at the Visitors Center. Jerusalem and New York: Shalem.

    Rollston, Christopher
    2003    Non-Provenanced Epigraphs I: Pillaged Antiquities, Northwest Semitic Forgeries, and Protocols for Laboratory Tests.  Maarav 10:135-195.

    Shanks, Hershel
    1996    Fingerprint of Jeremiah’s Scribe.  Biblical Archaeology Review 22/2: 36-38.

    Shiloh, Yigal
    1986    A Group of Hebrew Bullae from the City of David.  Israel Exploration Journal 36/1-2: 16-38.

    Shoham, Yair
    2000    Hebrew Bullae.  Pp. 29-57 in Excavations at the City of David 1978-1985 Directed by Yigal Shiloh.  Final Report VI.  Inscriptions.  Edited by D. T. Ariel.  Qedem 41.  Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University.

    Yeivin, Ze’ev
    1987    The Mysterious Silver Hoard from Eshtemoa.  Biblical Archaeology Review 13/6: 38-44.


    By Gordon Franz

    Some have raised the objection that Mount Sinai could not be in the Sinai Peninsula because millions of Israelites died during the Wilderness Wanderings and no graves of any of these Israelites have been discovered in the Sinai Peninsula from this period.  Recently we received such an inquiry at the Associates for Biblical Research (ABR) website by an anonymous individual identified only as “Curious.”

    This individual states: “How can it be logical to say the Israelites wandered in the Sinai Peninsula for 40 years, and the older ones all died, and kept the younger ones very busy burying their older generation (all the millions of adults who came out of Egypt), and yet archaeology in that location never has found a single gravesite from the entire time of the wilderness wanderings?  I don’t think the Sinai Peninsula is the right location for the 40 years of wanderings because there should be millions of graves there if that is where the Israelites wandered” (Italics by Gordon Franz).
    Is this a valid objection to Mount Sinai being in the Sinai Peninsula?

    First, we should start with the hermeneutical questions: Does the Bible interpret the archaeological finds?  Or, do the archaeological finds interpret the Bible?  In “Curious’” case, archaeology is used to interpret the Bible (see italics quote).  That is a very dangerous precedent to follow because archaeology is not an exact science and it is always changing with new excavations and new interpretations.  Views held by archaeologists today may be passé tomorrow due to new evidence.  So I would reject “Curious’” underlying presupposition.

    I believe that the Bible is divine revelation and it should interpret the archaeological finds.  The Bible is clear, Mount Sinai is in the Sinai Peninsula, and so the Bible has to dictate how we interpret the archaeological finds (Har-el 1983; Rasmussen 1989:86-92).

    Second, to say that there are no graves in the Sinai from the period of the Exodus / Wilderness Wanderings is very misleading.  One should first ask the question: In what archaeological period was the Wilderness Wanderings (Cohen 1983:16-39; for surveys of Sinai, see Meshel 2000)?  Does a preconceived idea of which archaeological period to look at happen to eliminate all your evidence?

    Third, what kind of graves would Israelites have been buried in?  If the Israelites buried their dead in a simple trench burial in the ground, would they have even left a marker on top of the grave?  There would be no reason to mark the grave because they were heading to the Promised Land, the Land of Canaan, and not returning back to visit the graves of their ancestors as Bedouin in Sinai, the Negev, Jordan and Saudi Arabia do today, thus the markers on their graves so they can visit their ancestors!

    Fourth, how do we know that most of the Israelites were even buried in Sinai?  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers that: “But with most of them God was not pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (I Cor. 10:5 NKJV).  “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert” (NIV).  One gets the distinct impression from this passage that most of the bodies were just left in the Wilderness, exposed to the elements … and the vultures, hyenas and jackals!  If that is the case, there will be very few graves at all, thus “no gravesites in Sinai” would be a dead objection.

    Fifth, another possibility that should be pursued is the Hebrew practice of secondary burial.  In this practice, the dead would be buried in a cave for a year and then the bones would be gathered for “secondary burial.”  In the case of the First Temple period, the bones would be placed into a repository in the cave.  During the Second Temple period, the bones would be placed in an ossuary.  The phrase in the Bible that is connected with this practice is: “and he slept with his fathers,” or more literally, “he was gathered to his fathers.”

    This practice began with the Patriarch Abraham when he bought a cave near Hebron and buried his wife Sarah in it (Gen. 23).  He was later interned there, as was his son Isaac and his wife Rebecca.  Jacob and one of his wives, Leah, were buried there as well (Gen. 49:28-33; 50:5, 13).  When Jacob died in Egypt, he wanted to be gathered to his fathers in the Promised Land.

    Abraham, and later Jacob, bought plots of ground near Shechem and this was later used as a burial plot for others of their descendents, including Joseph (Gen. 33:19; cf. Acts 7:15-16).  Joseph clearly instructs the Children of Israel to rebury his bones in the Promised Land (Gen. 50:24-25; cf. Heb. 11:22; Ex. 13:19; Josh. 24:32).

    The Bible places the burial of Rachel in the tribal territory of Benjamin (Gen. 48:7; I Sam. 10:2; cf. Jer. 31:15; Neh. 7:26).  Interestingly, in the territory of Benjamin, there are six or seven megalithic structures clustered together and preserve the Arabic name Qubur Bani Israil, translated “tombs of the sons of Israel” (Finkelstein and Magen 1993: 63*, 371-372, site 479; Hareuveni 1991: 64-71).

    When the Wilderness Wandering narratives are examined, there are only three accounts of burials recorded.  The first is those who died of the plague at Kibroth Hattaavah [“the graves of craving”] after the LORD sent quail to their camp (Num. 11:31-34).  The second burial that is recorded is that of Miriam, the sister of Moses, at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 20:1).  The final burial is at the death of Aaron, the brother of Moses, on Mount Hor that is on the border with Edom (probably Mount Rimon, Har-el 1983:273-274).   Interestingly, in the account of Aaron’s death, there is no mention of his burial (Num. 20:23-29), but there is mention of him being “gathered to his fathers” (20:24, 26).  In the book of Deuteronomy, however, his burial is mentioned (10:6).

    The fact that Aaron would be “gathered to his fathers” indicates secondary burial was practiced, at least with him, during the Wilderness Wanderings.  As was noted with the Patriarchs, their desire was to be buried in the Land of Israel (“Eretz Yisrael”).  It is a distinct possibility that the Israelites gathered the bones of their relatives who died in the Wilderness and carried them to the Promised Land and buried them in the Land of Israel (Gonen 1985: 53 [sidebar], 54 [map]).  If that is the case, there would be no graves of the Israelites in the Wilderness because they would be in Israel!

    Finally, the tables should be turned on those who reject Mount Sinai and the Wilderness Wanderings in the Sinai Peninsula.  What is the nature of their “evidence” for graves at their theorized sites?  Again, the questions that need to be answered are these: (1) Where are these “Israelite” graves outside of the Sinai Peninsula?  (2) How does one know they are Israelites burials and not recent Bedouin burials?  (3) What archaeological period are you looking for the Wilderness Wanderings?  (4) What archaeological remains (if any) were excavated at these graves and are they from the period of the Wilderness Wanderings?  (5) Were these human remains carbon dated to determine the possible dates of the bones?  If so, are these dates consistent with the Biblical date for the Wilderness Wanderings?  (6) Were DNA tests done on the bones to determine the ethnic origin of those buried in these graves?  Were the DNA tests results compared to the local Bedouin in the area to see if it matched their DNA?

    I think we should pursue other avenues of inquiries before we allow archaeology to interpret the Bible, thus abandoning the clear statements of Scripture and removing Mount Sinai from the Sinai Peninsula and placing it in Saudi Arabia or somewhere else.  Mount Sinai belongs in the Sinai Peninsula, right where the Bible places it!


    Cohen, Rudolph
    1983    The Mysterious MB I People.  Does the Exodus Tradition in the Bible Preserve the Memory of Their Entry into Canaan?  Biblical Archaeology Review 9/4: 16-29.

    Finkelstein, Israel; and Magen, Yitzhak, eds.
    1993    Archaeological Survey of the Hill Country of Benjamin.  Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.

    Gonen, Rivka
    1985    Was the Site of the Jerusalem Temple Originally a Cemetery?  Biblical Archaeology Review 9/3: 44-55.

    Har-el, Menashe
    1983    The Sinai Journeys.  The Route of the Exodus.  San Diego, CA: Ridgefield Publishing Company.

    Hareuveni, Nogah
    1991    Desert and Shepherd in Our Biblical Heritage.  Trans. by Helen Frenkley.  Kiryat Ono: Neot Kedumim.

    Meshel, Ze’ev
    2000    Sinai.  Excavations and Studies.  Oxford: BAR International Series 876.

    Rasmussen, Carl
    1989    Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan.


    By Gordon Franz


    The consequence of King Uzziah’s military strategy associated with his foreign policy is summarized by a proverb of wise King Solomon.  He stated: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).  Let us examine the geography of King Uzziah’s military expansionist policies and show how these policies led to a proud heart and eventually to his downfall.  King Uzziah (also called Azariah in II Kings 15:1-7) is an example of a king who starts out spiritually on the right foot, but ends up on the wrong foot (II Chron. 26).


    At this point in Israel’s history the Kingdom is divided.  The ten tribes to the north called Israel and the two tribes to the south called Judah.  King Uzziah, also known as Azariah, reigned from 792-740 BC.  He was 16 years old when he came to the throne (792 BC) after the death of his father Amaziah.  Uzzaih “sought God in the days of Zechariah” which was about 25 years.  When he was 41 years old, about 767 BC, he rebuilt Eilat.  His expansionist policies led to a “strong heart being lifted up” and in the year 750 BC, the Middle East was struck with a devastating earthquake and Uzziah was struck with leprosy.  In the northern Kingdom, Jeroboam II was ruling from Samaria (792-753/2 BC).

    The Rebuilding of Eilat

    King Uzziah stepped out of the will of God as revealed in the Word of God, by taking territory that did not belong to him.  It is unusual for the writer of the book of Chronicles to mention the building activities in the summary formula of the king’s reign.  The Spirit of God included this statement of the building of Eilat because it a key to understanding Uzziah’s pride, and his subsequent downfall.

    The southern border of Israel, which is also the southern border of the tribal territory of Judah, is explicitly given in Numbers 34:3-5.  It states: “Your southern border shall be from the Wilderness of Zin along the border of Edom; then your sourhern border shall extend eastward to the end of the Salt Sea; your border shall turn from the southern side of the Ascent of Akrabbim, continue to Zin, and be on the south side of Kadesh Barnea; then it shall go to Hazar Addar; and continue to Azmon; the border shall turn from Azmon to the Brook Egypt, and it shall end at the Sea.”  Joshua basically reiterates the same borders: “The border of Edom at the Wilderness of Zin southward was the extreme southern boundry.  And their southern border began at the shore of the Salt Sea, from the bay that faces southward.  Then it went out to the southern side of the Ascent of Akrabbim, passed along to Zin, ascended on the south side of Kadesh Barnea, passed along to Hezron, went up to Adar, and went around to Karkaa.  From there it passed toward Azmon and went out to the Brook of Egypt; and the border ended at the sea.  This shall be your southern border” (15:2-4; CBA 51).

    There are two things to note in these passages.  First, the line of the border goes from the southern end of the Dead Sea, to the south of the Ascent of Akrabbim (the scorpion), through the Wilderness of Zin to a point south of Kadesh Barnea.  The second thing to note is that the territory of Edom lies to the south of the Land of Israel and the tribal territory of Judah (Crew 2002).

    The city of Eilat that was built by King Uzziah was in Edom’s territory.  When King Solomon sent out his Red Sea fleet, they departed from “Ezion Geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom” (I Kings 9:26).  “Then Solomon went to Ezion Geber and Elath on the seacoast, in the land of Edom” (II Chron. 8:17).

    In the description of the Children of Israel wandering in the wilderness, the territory of Edom is mentioned and Eilat and Ezion Geber are placed in this territory (Deut. 2:1-8).

    When I was a student at the Institute of Holy land Studies in Jerusalem, I had a class on “Modern Israeli Society.”  One lecture was by a member of Israel’s parliament, the Kenesst.  His name was Yehuda ben Moshe.  He made a statement I never forgot.  He said his only claim to fame in life was: “I was the first mayor of Eilat in 1948 and it was a city that did not belong to us Biblically!”  I thought that was an odd statement when he made it, but when I began to study the life of King Uzziah, I realized he was right.  Eilat belonged to Edom, not Israel.

    The Identification of the Eilat

    The region of Eilat / Akaba was first surveyed by Fritz Frank in 1933.  He identified Tel el-Kheleifeh with Biblical Ezion Geber.  Nelson Glueck conducted three seasons of excavations at this site between 1938 and 1940.  He identified Tell el-Kheleifeh with Biblical Ezion-geber and Eilat (Glueck 1938: 2-13).

    Prof. Benjamin Mazar challenged Glueck’s view.  He stated: “The immediate vicinity of ‘Aqaba is the most suitable spot for an Israelite fort to be associated with Ezion-Geber, located within the settled area of Elath.  The latter would be the earlier name of the site, and the fortress of Ezion-Geber would have been founded, after David’s conquest of Edom, as an emporium for the South-Arabian trade” (Mazar 1975: 119*).  He suggested that Tell el-Kheleifeh was Ebronah, one of Solomon’s “store-city” (Mazar 1975: 120*), also known as Biblical Abronah (Num. 33: 34-36).

    Burno Rothenberg identifies the Ezion-Geber with Jezirat Fara’un, known as Pharaoh’s Island, to the west of modern Eilat (Rothenberg 1972: 202-207; Flinder 1989: 30-43).

    Recently, a reappraisal of the excavations and identification of Tell el-Kheleifeh was done by Gary Pratico (1985: 1-32; 1986: 24-35; 1993: 17-23).  He concluded that the “identification of Tell el-Kheleifeh is both an archaeological and an historical problem.  One may argue the identification from the perspective of possibility or probability but the problem of verification precludes examination of the site in the context of Biblical Ezion-geber and/or Eilath (1985:27).

    While we may not know precisely where the ancient site of Eilat is today, it is safe to say that it is in the area of modern day Eilat (Israel) and Akaba (Jordan).  It’s location on the tip of the Red Sea (Gulf of Eilat / Akaba) made it ideal for mercantile trade.  Sea trade and caravans through this port brought an increase in wealth for Judah because of this trade.  There were two other Israelite / Judean kings that took Eilat as well, Solomon (I Kings 9:26; CBA 112, 115) and Jehoshaphat (II Chron. 20:36).

    The Military Preparations and Expansionist Conquests

    The Chronicler records the military activity of King Uzziah.  He states: “Now he [Uzziah] went out and made war against the Philistines, and broke down the wall of Gath, and the wall of Jabneh, and the wall of Ashdod; and he built cities around Ashdod and among the Philistines.  God helped him against the Philistines, against the Arabians who lived in Gur Baal, and against the Meunites.  And the Ammonites brought tribute to Uzziah.  His fame spread as far as the entrance of Egypt, for he became exceedingly strong.  And Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem …  And Uzziah built towers in the desert (midbar).  He dug many wells, for he had much livestock, both in the lowlands (Shephelah) and the plains (Coastal Plains); he also had farmers and vinedressers in the mountains and in Carmel, for he loved the soil” (II Chron. 26:6-10; CBA 141).

    At the beginning of his military campaigns, Uzziah made war against the Philistines and God helped him (26:6, 7).  The southern border of Israel was the “brook Egypt”.  Nadav Na’aman places this border at the Nahal Basor, just south of Gaza city (1979:68-90; 1980:95-109).  Anson Rainey disputes this identification and places it at Wadi al-Arish (1982:130-136).  Judah should have driven the Philistines out of this territory long ago because they were a bad influence on Judah / Israel, a fact acknowledged by the Prophet Isaiah (2:6).

    The securing of Philistia and the settlement of Judeans within the coastal plains had two economic benefits.  First, it gave them the opportunity to develop the agriculture in the area.  This was something that Uzziah had a keen interest in (II Chron. 26:10).  Second, Uzziah was able to extract tribute from the caravans that used the International Coastal Highway that went through the territory of Philistia (CBA 9, 10).

    Uzziah also turned his attention to the Arabians that lived at Gur Baal (26:7).  The location of Gur Baal is a much debated topic, but it appears to be somewhere in the region southwest of Judah and near Philistia (Eph’al 1982: 77, 78).  The Meunites (26:7) appeared to have settled in the northern Sinai Peninsula to the west of the Aravah and Edom’s territory (I Chron. 4:41, 42; Eph’al 1982:65, 66).  In this military action, Uzziah is trying to secure his trade routes to Eilat from any attacks from the west.

    The statement that the Ammonites brought tribute to King Uzziah (26:8), implies that Judah controlled the area as well as the strategic Transjordanian Highway that went through their territory, thus brining more tribute money (CBA 9, 10).

    Uzziah built towers (migdalim) in the desert (midbar).  The midbar in view here is the Wilderness of Zin and its surrounding areas (26:10).  Rudolph Cohen has excavated a number of Iron Age fortresses in the Central Negev Highlands, the area of the Wilderness (midbar) of Zin (Cohen 1979: 61-79).  These fortresses, along the southern border of Judah, guarded the road to Eilat (Aharoni 1967: 15-17).  For a contrary view, see Finkelstein 1984: 189-209.

    Uzziah also dug many wells, or cisterns (borot) in the area.  Some of which can still be seen in the area (Cohen 1981: xxvii, 62-64, site 101).

    The Relationship of the Kings of Judah to Wealth and Power

    Moses sets forth the rules and regulations concerning the future rule of kings of Israel / Judah (Deut. 17:14-20).  He states that the king will be chosen from “your brethren” (17:15).  He was not to multiply horses to himself (17:16).  This is to prevent the king from boasting about his own strength (cf. Josh. 11:6; II Sam. 8:4; Micah 5:10).  The king is not to multiply wives (17:17a).  An example of one who did was Solomon and the foreign wives drew his heart away from the Lord.  The king was not to greatly multiply silver and gold to himself (17:17b).  They need silver and gold to keep the kingdom functioning, but the instruction is not to “multiply” the precious metals.  The king was to write a copy of the (Mosaic) Law (17:18) and read the Law (17:19).  The king is subject to the Law and is not above it (17:20).

    King Uzziah followed all these principles in the first part of his reign.  In the beginning he learned to fear God (II Chron. 26:16a); he observed God’s statues (26:16b); his heart was not lifted up (26:16b); nor did not turn away from the LORD (26:18), thus his days were prolonged (26:21).  Yet after he took Eilat, he built up his military and it included multiplying horses for his army.  As a result of controlling the international highways and receiving tribute, he multiplied gold and silver to himself.  The Prophet Isaiah acknowledged this state of affairs.  “Their land [Judah] is also full of silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is also full of horses, and there is no end to their chariots” (2:7).

    The Earthquake in the Days of King Uzziah

    In the mid-8th century BC, the Middle East was hit with a devastating earthquake.  The prophets warned both the Northern Kingdom as well as the Southern Kingdom of impending danger if they did not turn from their evil ways and return to the Lord and His ways.

    Two years before this earthquake, the Judean shepherd from Tekoa, cried out against the social injustices in the northern kingdom under the rule of Jeroboam II (Amos 1:1; 9:1).  The book that bears his name is replete with warnings of an earthquake to come.  In the southern kingdom, Isaiah warns of this earthquake as well because of the haughtiness of the people of Judah (Isa. 2:6-21).  Hundreds of years later, the prophet Zechariah reminds the people of Judah of the devastation caused by this earthquake (Zech. 14:4, 5).

    Evidence for this earthquake has been uncovered by the archaeologists spade throughout Israel and Jordan.  Graphic evidence can be seen at Hazor and Ein Hazeva (Biblical Tamar).  I tri-authored an article with two geologists on this earthquake and it was concluded that the earthquake measured an 8.2 on the Ritcher scale and the epicenter was located in the Beka Valley, in present day Lebanon (Austin, Franz and Frost 2000: 657-671).  An earthquake of that magnitude would put the fear of the LORD into anybody.

    Josephus, the First Century Jewish historian, described the events in Jerusalem during this earthquake.  King Uzziah was in the Temple trying to offer incense on the altar at Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a duty only allowed the High Priest (Lev. 16 and 17).  The priests tried to stop him, but he was defiant.  Josephus records what happens next: “But, while he [Uzziah] spoke, a great tremor shook the earth, and, as the temple was riven, a brilliant shaft of sunlight gleamed through it and fell upon the king’s face so that leprosy at once smote him” (Antiquities of the Jews 9:225; LCL 6:119; cf. II Chron. 26:19-21, 23).  The Bible does not place the two events together chronologically, but Josephus may have had access to records that are no longer available to us.

    Uzziah was so full of pride that he thought he was above the Law and could do anything he wanted to do.  The Chronicler again records: “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the Temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense” (II Chron. 26:16).  The same Hebrew words are used in Proverb 16:18 which states: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Uzziah paid a high price for his pride and disobedience to the Word of God.  He was put outside the city in an “isolation house” and was not allowed into the Temple again (II Chron. 26:21).

    The Death of King Uzziah

    The Bible records the death of King Uzziah in these terms: “So Uzziah rested with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the field of burial which belonged to the kings, for they said, ‘He is a leper'” (II Chron. 26:23).  He was buried with his fathers, but not in the royal tombs.  His burial cave is probably the cave in the City of David overlooking the “Tower of Siloah.”

    In the 19th century, a burial inscription was discovered on the Mount of Olives (Cameron 1973: 120, #255).  It read: “Here were brought / the bones of Uzziah, / King of Judah, / and not to be opened.”  The paleography of the inscription is late 1st century BC.  Joesphus records that Herod the Great erected a monument over the tomb of David after he tried to steal some of the gold and silver from the tomb.  This was probably the time when Uzziah’s bones were moved and the inscription was written.

    Summary of King Uzziah’s Foreign Policy and Spiritual Regression

    King Uzziah began his reign on the “right foot” by being obedient to the Word of God.  Somewhere along the line, he stepped out of the will of God, as revealed in the Word of God, by taking Eilat.  When he did this, he had built up his military in order to control the Transjordanian Highway and the International Coastal Highway.  As a consequence of controlling these roads, he had to fortify these and other routes.  Yet with the control of these roads, the national treasury increased.  Yet the sad fact is, because of his military strength and wealth, King Uzziah developed a proud heart that led to his downfall (II Chron. 26:15, 16; Prov. 16:18).

    Outline of the Life and Times of King Uzziah (II Chron. 26)

    A.   Introduction.  26:1-5.

    B.   The prosperity of King Uzziah.  26:6-15.

    1.    Material possessions.  26:6-10.

    2.    Military preparations.  26:11-15.

    C.   The pride of King Uzziah.  26:16-19; cf. Deut. 8:6-18; Prov. 16:18.

    D.   The punishment of King Uzziah.  26:20-23.


    Aharoni, Yohanan

    1967    Forerunners of the Limes: Iron Age Fortresses in the Negev.  Israel Exploration Journal 17/1: 1-17.

    Aharoni, Yohanan; Avi-Yonah, Michael; Rainey, Anson; and Safrai, Ze’ev

    2002   The Carta Bible Atlas.  Fourth edition.  Jerusalem: Carta.  (Footnoted as CBA).

    Austin, Steve, Franz, Gordon, and Frost, Eric

    2000    Amos’s Earthquake:  An Extraordinary Middle East Seismic Event of 750 B.C.  International Geology Review 42/7: 657-671.

    Carmon, Efrat, ed.

    1972    Inscriptions Revealed.  Trans. by R. Grafman.  Jerusalem: Israel Museum.

    Cohen, Rudolph

    1979   The Iron Age Fortresses in the Central Negev.  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 236: 61-79.

    1981   Archaeological Survey of Israel.  Map of Sede Boqer – East (168).  Jerusalem: Archaeological Survey of Israel.

    Crew, Bruce

    2002   Did Edom’s Original Territories Extend West of ‘Wadi Arabah?  Bible and Spade 15/1: 2-10.

    Eph’al, Israel

    1982    The Ancient Arabs.  Jerusalem and Leiden: Magness and E. J. Brill.

    Finkelstein, Israel

    1984      The Iron Age “Fortresses” of the Negev Highlands:

    Sendentarization of the Nomads.  Tel Aviv 11/2: 189-209.

    Flinder, Alexander

    1989    Is This Solomon’s Seaport?  Biblical Archaeology Review 15/4: 30-43.

    Glueck, Nelson

    1938    The Topography and History of Ezion-Geber and Elath.  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 72: 2-13.


    1937   Antiquities of the Jews.  Books 9-11.  Vol. 6.  Trans. by R. Marcus.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.  Loeb Classical Library 326.  Reprinted in 1987.

    Mazar, Benjamin

    1975    Ezion-Geber and Ebronah.  Eretz-Israel 12: 46-48, 119*.

    Na’aman, Nadav

    1979    The Brook of Egypt and Assyrian Policy on the Border of Egypt.  Tel Aviv 6: 68-90.

    1980    The Shihor of Egypt and Shur that is Before Egypt.  Tel Aviv 7: 95-109.

    Pratico, Gary

    1985    Nelson Glueck’s 1938-1940 Excavations at Tell el-Kheleifeh: A

    Reappraisal.  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental

    Research 259: 1-32.

    1986    A Reappraisal of the Site Archaeologist Nelson Glueck Identified as King Solomon’s Red Sea Port.  Biblical Archaeology Review 12/5: 24-35.

    1993    Nelson Glueck’s 1938-1940 Excavations at Tell el-Kheleifeh.  A Reappraisal.  Atlanta, GA: Scholars.

    Rainey, Anson

    1982     Toponymic Problems (cont.).  Tel Aviv 9/2: 130-136.

    Rothenberg, Beno

    1972    Timna.  Valley of the Biblical Copper Mines.  Aylesbury: Thames and Hudson.

    This paper was first read at the Association of American Geographers meeting in Boston, MA on April 16, 2008.

  • Archaeology and the Bible Comments Off on The Synagogue on the Island of Delos and the Epistle of James

    By Gordon Franz


    Sefar Ya’akov, written by Ya’akov Ben-Zavdai, was addressed to Messianic Jews residing in the Diaspora, outside of Eretz Yis-rael.   This small epistle, only five chapters long, has a distinct Jewish flavor based on the teachings of Yeshua ha-Mashiach.

    I believe that James, the son of Zebedee, wrote this epistle soon after AD 30, as a follow-up letter, in order to encourage Jewish believers in the Lord Jesus who had come to faith during the annual pilgrimage of Shavuot (Pentecost) in Jerusalem (Acts 2).

    In the First Century AD, there was a Jewish community living on the island of Delos.   This island, situated at the center of the Cyclades Islands, was famous in Greek mythology as the birthplace of the god Apollo and his sister, the goddess Artemis.

    This article will give a brief overview of the history of the island, and will discuss the Jewish and Samaritan communities that resided on the island, as well as the synagogue that was discovered during the archaeological excavations in 1912-13.   The setting of the epistle of James is a synagogue in the Diaspora.   I will use the Delos synagogue to illustrate several passages in the epistle.   Using our “sanctified imagination,” we will try to comprehend how a Jewish believer in the Lord Jesus on the island of Delos would understand the word-pictures in the epistle in light of the First Century AD history, geography, and material culture.   The archaeology of the islands of Delos and Rheneia, an island opposite Delos, will help to illustrate the word-pictures.   To conclude this study, I will discuss the implications for the dating of the epistle of James.


    Delos is a small island in the center of the Cyclades.   Pliny describes these islands as “lying round Delos in a circle which has given them their name”.   He goes on to state, “By far the most famous of the Cyclades and lying in the middle of them, Delos, celebrated for its temple of Apollo and for its commerce” ( Natural History 4.12:65; LCL 2: 165,167).

    If one climbs to the top of Mt. Cynthus on a clear day, the islands of Siros can be viewed to the west, Tinos to the north, Mykonos to the northeast, Paros and Naxos to the south.

    The island is 5 km long in a north-south direction.   At its widest, it is 1.3 km in an east-west direction.   The highest mountain is Mt. Cynthus which rises 112 meters above sea level.   From a spring on the side of the mountain, flowing for 1.2 km, is the River Inopus, that flows into the Bay of Scardanas.

    The first settlement on the island of Delos was discovered on Mt. Cynthus dating to the 3rd millennium BC.   It did not seem to last long and the island was abandoned until the late Mycenaean period (1580-1200 BC) when the plain below the mountain was inhabited.

    It was colonized by the Ionians about 750 BC.   At this point in history, the island takes on its sacred status.   Homer’s Odyssey (Book 6, line 162; LCL 1: 233) and the Homeric Hymns, written about 700 BC, said that Delos was an important religious center.   It becomes important because, according to Greek mythology, the island of Delos offered Leto a place to safely give birth to Apollo and Artemis from the fury of Hera, the wife of Zeus ( To Delian Apollo LCL 325-337).

    Athenian influence was exerted over the island in the 6th century BC.   They “purified” the island by removing all the burials from the area around the Temple of Apollo in 540 BC.

    The Persian Wars broke out about 490 BC.  An alliance of Greek city-states was formed, called the Delian League, against the Persians in 478/7 BC.   Delos became the center for this league and the treasury was kept on the island.

    In the winter of 426/5 BC the second “purification” of the island occurred.   This time all the burials from the island were removed and reburied in what the archaeologists call the “Purification Trench” on the island of Rheneia (Catling 1996:443).

    From 314-166 BC, Delos enjoyed a period of independence and prosperity.   The island began to develop as a commercial center with public and private banks.   There was extensive building activity and foreigners began to populate the island.

    In 166 BC the Romans gained control of the island.   They put Athens in charge of the island and made it a free port.   With economic prosperity came foreign influence.   Foreigners from Italy, Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, Israel brought their cults with them and built temples and shrines to their gods.

    In 88 BC, Menophanes, an officer of Mithradates VI, “razed Delos itself to the ground”.   If one can believe the reports of Appian and Pausanias ( Description of Greece III:23.3-5; LCL 2:147), upwards to 20,000 people were killed on the island in this attack.   In 69 BC, the pirates of Athenodorus, sacked the island, and it never regained its glory.   It’s religious and commercial influenced waned.   As Strabo put it, “When the Romans again got the island, after the king withdrew to his homeland, it was desolate; and it has remained in an impoverished condition until the present time” ( Geography 10.5.4; LCL 5: 167).

    However, in 58 BC, the Roman Senate confirmed privileges on the people of Delos.   Throughout the First Century AD, there was a community on the island, and life went on under the control of the Athenians.

    In the second century AD, during the reign of Hadrian, the Athenians put the island up for sale, but there were no takers!   In fact, Pausanias states, “Delos, once the common market of Greece, has no Delian inhabitants, but only the men sent by the Athenians to guard the sanctuary” ( Description of Greece 33:2; LCL 4: 69).

    At the end of the 3rd century AD, there was a small Christian community on the island.   Toward the end of the 7th century AD the island becomes abandoned.

    For a detailed history of the island, see Laidlaw 1933.


    Jewish and Samaritan communities on the island of Delos are well attested to in the contemporary literature as well as inscriptions discovered in the excavations on Delos and Rheneia.

    The first mention in the literature to a Jewish community on the island of Delos is in I Macc. 15:16-23.   This passage contained a letter from the Roman proconsul, Lucius Calpurnius Piso (140-139 BC).   It affirmed that the Jews were friends of Rome and the various kings should protect them.

    During the reign of Julius Caesar, two edicts were given that protected the rights of the Jews on the island of Delos, both are recorded by Josephus ( Antiq. 14: 213-216; LCL 8: 561-563 and 14: 231-232; LCL 8: 571-573).

    Two funerary stela of Jewish women who were murdered on Delos were found on the island of Rheneia.   Each stela contained a prayer for vengeance against the murderers (Deissmann 1995: 413-424).   Interestingly, the Greek form of “El Elyon” (“God, Most High”) is used on both inscriptions.   This name also appears on one inscription found in the synagogue.

    Recently, two Samaritan inscriptions were found 90 meters to the north of the synagogue building.   One read, “The Israelites on Delos who make offerings to hallowed Argarizein crown with a gold crown Sarapion, son of Jason, of Knossos, for his benefactions toward them” (Kraabel 1984: 44).   The second one said, “[the] Israelites [on Delos] who make offerings to hallowed, consecrated Argarizein …” (Kraabel 1984: 45).

    One can assume that both communities were engaged in the trade and commerce on the island.


    Excavations on the island of Delos began in 1873 and were conducted by the Greek Antiquities Service and the Ecole Francaise d’Archeologie at Athens.   The most intensive excavations were carried out between 1902 and 1914.   During the 1912-13 excavations, a synagogue building was discovered by the excavator, Andre Plassart.   The site was later re-excavated by Philippe Bruneau in 1962 and published by him in 1970 and 1982.

    The structure is located in a residential area in the northeast part of the island.   It consists of several rooms.   The main room, the hall of assembly, measures 16.9 meters north-south by 15.04 meters east-west, with a triportal entrance.   The assembly hall was divided into two rooms, probably after the War of Mithridates in 88 BC.   In the northern room, there are marble benches that line the wall.   In the center of the west wall is a kathedra (throne) with a footstool.   The entrance to a cistern is located In the southern room.

    Four inscriptions were found in the excavations.   Each contained the words, Theos Hypsistos (“God, the Most High”) or Hypsistos (“the Most High”).   The former is translated El Elyon in the LXX (cf. Gen. 14: 19,20,22; Goodenough 1957).   This name of God also appears on the “Vengeance Inscription” from the island of Rheneia.   One also contained the word proseuchai, sometimes translated “prayer halls” and could refer to a synagogue.

    The excavator concluded that the synagogue was in use from the First Century BC into the Second Century AD.   Recently, Monika Trumper published a comprehensive article advocating that this structure is the oldest original synagogue building in the Diaspora (2004).   She contents that there were five phases of occupation from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD.   This, however, is not the final excavation report.

    The identification of this structure has been hotly debated.   The original excavator, Andre Passart, identified it as a Jewish house of worship (1913).   E. L. Sukenik, in his Ancient Synagogues in Palestine and Greece, followed this identification (1934).   In 1935, Belle D. Mazur came out with a study, Studies of Jewry in Ancient Greece disputing this identification.   As a result of this study, Sukenik reversed his position on the structure (1949).   Edwin R. Goodenough, in his monumental work, Jewish Symbols of the Graeco-Roman Period (1965:2: 71-75) anaylized Mazur’s work and offered counter arguments.   However, he concluded that the structure “might almost certainly … be taken, without any protest, to be probably a synagogue” (2: 74).   So much for archaeological dogmatism!

    Hershel Shanks concluded that the structure was actually a temple to Zeus (1979: 43-45).   There have been other studies by L. Michael White (1987) and A. T. Kraabel that reaffirm the synagogue interpretation.   For the purpose of this paper, the synagogue interpretation will be accepted and followed.


    It is not the intent of this article to imply or suggest that the epistle of James reached the island of Delos, or that James had this synagogue in mind.   This synagogue is used only as an example of a First Century AD Diaspora synagogue to illustrate two passages in the epistle.   Nothing more is implied.   James was writing to Jewish believers in the Lord Jesus in the Diaspora (James 1:1).

    The setting of the epistle of James is a synagogue in the Diaspora.   The Diaspora is a technical Jewish term, in Greek, for the Jewish people living outside of the Land of Israel.   James 2:2-4 says, “For if there should come into your synagogue a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, “Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” [2]

    The early church met in synagogues before there was the split between the Church and the Synagogue (Acts 26:11).   The Delos synagogue can illustrate James 2.   On the west wall of the assembly hall was a kathedra (throne) of white marble that has been identified as a “seat of Moses.”   This was the most prominent seat in the synagogue where the rabbi would teach the congregation the Torah.   Below his feet was a footstool.   When the rich man came in, he was given a “good place”, probably the seat next to the “seat of Moses” on the bench reserved for the elders.   On the other hand, the poor man was relegated to stand in the corner or sit at the footstool of the rabbi.

    The kathedra, or seat of Moses, illustrates the second passage.   James 3:1 says, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”   The teacher of the Word of God, like the rabbis, scribes and Pharisees, would sit in the “seat of Moses” and expound the Scriptures.   James warns the teacher about living a life that is contrary to what he is teaching.   James still has the words of the Lord Jesus that he heard only a short while before ringing in his mind.   “The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works, for they say, and do not do” (Matt. 23:2,3).

    Most English Bibles translate the Greek word “synagogue” as either “assembly,” “congregation,” “meeting,” “place of worship,” or even “church”!   If we see the epistle of James in its Jewish Diaspora context it should be translated, as the New Jerusalem Bible translates it, “synagogue.”   For a full discussion and debate of the word “synagogue,” see Kee 1990; Oster 1993; Kee 1994.


    Permit me to use my “sanctified imagination” for a moment.   Let’s assume that the epistle of James did reach the island of Delos and believers in the Lord Jesus read it.   How would they understand the word pictures used by James in the book?   They, like us, read the Bible in the context of the world in which the reader lives.   The believers on Delos would understand the epistle from the surroundings of their world.

    Perhaps the believers were meeting on the Lord’s Day in the synagogue of Delos when somebody came from the harbor carrying a copy of the epistle of James.   With great anticipation they began to read it.   “James, a servant ( doulos) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1a).   Delos had an earlier reputation as a great slave market.   Strabo describes the slave market of Delos in these terms: “… Delos, which could both admit and send away ten thousand slaves on the same day; whence arose the proverb, ‘Merchants, sail in, unload your ship, everything has been sold.’   The cause of this was the fact that the Romans, having become rich after the destruction of Carthage and Corinth, used many slaves” ( Geography 14.5.2; LCL 6:329).

    James goes on to say, “To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (1:1b).   The Jews who had come to faith were descendents of the tribe of Judah.   Also living on the island of Delos were Samaritans, those of the northern tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh.

    They continued to read, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.”   James wrote this epistle to encourage the people as they go through trials and testings in their walk with the Lord.   He recounts the words he heard the Lord Jesus say on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:11,12).   He then writes about testings from without (1:2-12) and temptation from within (1:12-18).

    The believer who doubts the wisdom of God in testings is described as “a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (1:6).   James had in mind the eastern windstorms that he had experienced while fishing on the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:23-27 // Mark 4:35-41 // Luke 8:22-25 and Matt. 14:22-33 // Mark 6:45-52 // John 6:15-21).   The reader on Delos knew from experience the description of “holy Delos” given by Callimanchus.   “Surely all the Cyclades, most holy of the isles that lie in the sea. …Wind-swept and stern is she set in the sea, and, wave-beaten as she is, is fitter haunt for gulls than course for horses.   The sea, rolling greatly round her, casts off on her much spindrift of the Icarian water” ( Hymn to Delos 4; LCL 85).   One can experience the winds and the waves today on the ferry from Mykonos to Delos.

    When he describes temptation he uses a word from fishing terminology, “enticed” (1:14; Kent 1986:51).   James the son of Zebedee used this word from his own fishing profession.   The readers on Delos would understand this word picture from their personal experience as well.   Callimachus continues in his Hymn to Delos, describing Delos as a place where “sea-roaming fishermen have made her their home” ( To Delos 4; LCL 85).   In the excavations of Delos, a number of fish hooks and implements used for mending nets (cf. Mark 1:19) were discovered.   The term “entice” depicts a live bait, either a worm or fish on a hook to prompt the fish to bit it.   The fish is deceived and caught.   The temptation to sin is the same way.   It looks alluring (Heb. 11:25), but when partaken of, it leads to death (James 1:15).

    James gives an outline for the rest of the book in verse 19 (Hodges 1994: 15,16).   “Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”   James expands on the theme, “be swift to hear” in James 1:21-2:26.   The believer is not just to hear the Word of God, but is also to do it (1:22).   The second section, “be slow to speak” is expanded on in chapter 3.   The third section, “be slow to wrath” is expanded on in James 4:1-5:6.   The final section of the book gives the key for going through trials and temptation.   James says the believer is to have patience (waiting for the Lord’s return) and pray (5:7-20).

    The first section, “be swift to hear” is set in the synagogue, with its “seat of Moses” and footstool.   James admonishes the believers to be swift to hear the Word of God and apply it to ones life.   The setting of the synagogue has already been discussed.   However, within the context of the synagogue in James 2, James quotes the Hebrew Scriptures in verse 8 (cf. Lev. 19:18) and verse 11 (Ex. 19:13,14).   Passages that would be found in the Torah scrolls of the synagogue.   In his discourse on “faith and works” he says, “You believe that there is one God, you do well” (2:19).   The statement “one God” comes from the Shema (Deut. 6:4) that was recited in the synagogue as well as the Scriptures contained within the tefillin (Ex. 13:1-10; Deut. 6:4-9; Ex. 13:11-16).   Tefillin were used in the First Century as attested to by the ones discovered at Qumran (Yadin 1969:13).   James then gives two examples of people who expressed their faith before their fellow human beings by their works, Abraham and Rahab (2:21-25; cf. Matt. 5:16; Tit. 3:5,8).   He concludes this section with verse 26, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”   The Delians had an interesting custom concerning the dead.   Strabo describes Rheneia, the island opposite Delos, in these terms.   “Rheneia is a desert isle within four stadia from Delos, and there the Delians bury their dead; for it is unlawful to bury, or even burn, a corpse on Delos itself” ( Geography 10.5.5; LCL 5: 167).   Since Delos was a “holy” island, nobody could be born on the island for fear of infant mortality, nor die there.

    The theme of “slow to speak” is addressed in James 3.   James admonishes the teacher who would sit in the “seat of Moses” and expound the Scriptures.   James uses seven illustrations from the Sea of Galilee to describe the effect the tongue has on other people.   At least six of these would be clearly understood on Delos.

    The first illustration is the bit in the horses’ mouth that turns his body (3:2b,3).   On the walls of one of the houses was found a painting of a man riding a horse with the bit in the horses mouth.   The Delians would understand this because of the hippodrome on the island.   As previously mentioned, Callimachus mentions the course for horses.   Few archaeological remains of a hippodrome were discovered to the east of the sacred lake.

    The second illustration is that of a small rudder on a large ship (3:4).   James the son of Zebedee, being a fisherman, knew the power of the rudder to turn a ship in the wind.   The Delians understood the workings of the rudder from watching the ships maneuver as they came and went from this maritime trading center in the midst of the Aegean Sea.

    The third illustration is that of a forest fire (3:5,6).   James the son of Zebedee painted this word picture from the summer fires that were in the forests of Galilee and the Golan (cf. Amos 7:4; Joel 1:19,20; 2:3).

    The fourth illustration is of the animals (3:7).   The “creatures of the sea” would be understood by James as the fish in the Sea of Galilee.   The Delians would understand it as the sea creatures in the Aegean Sea.

    The fifth illustration is that of a spring (3:11,12).   James would have understood the contrast between the fresh water and bitter water from the time he spent at Tabgha, the fishing grounds for Capernaum.   There were seven springs there; some were bitter and some very sweet.   The island of Delos had only one source of fresh water, a spring on the side of Mt. Cynthos creating the Inopos River that flowed down to the salt water of the sea.

    The sixth illustration James uses is of fruit trees, figs, olives and grapes.   These trees were local to the Sea of Galilee as well as most of the Land of Israel.   Today, if one visits Delos, it appears to be devoid of fertile land.    The reason for that is twofold.   First, during the nineteenth century, the island was used a pastureland for the sheep from Mykonos.   Second, today it is an archaeological park under the auspices of the World Heritage Federation and farming in not permitted (Reger 1994:95).   There are a few fig trees scattered here and there, but in antiquity there were farms that engaged in agricultural activity (1994:127-145).   One can see vines on funerary monuments from Rhenea that would have reflected the earthly activities of the dead.   Callimachus also mentions olive trees on the island ( Hymn to Delos 4; LCL 105).

    In the final word-picture, James describes the “wisdom that is from above” as being “without hypocrisy” (3:17).   The word “hypocrisy” is a Greek theatric term for an actor that performs for the applause of the audience.   James was well aware of at least three theaters in the area of the Sea of Galilee.   From the northern shore of the Lake, one could see the Tiberias, Hippos and Gadara theaters.   The recipients of the letter on Delos knew the theatric term “hypocrisy” because of the theater on the island.   Also, a common motif of the period is painted masks on the walls and mosaics on the floors.   In a private house called the House of the Masks one can see such examples.

    The third section, “be slow to wrath,” begins in chapter 4.   James asks, “Where do wars and fights come from among you?”   The implication of that verse is that the believers were fighting in the church meeting.   Whenever I speak on this passage in a church I ask, tongue in cheek, “Christians don’t fight, do we?”   I usually hear snickering from the audience.   Of course we always justify our fighting and bickering by saying, “We fight in Christian love!”   James also states that some believers murder and covet (4:2).   A sword found in the excavations reminds us of potential weapons that could be used to carry out this gross and sinful deed.   A wall painting of two boxers fighting each other from one of the houses would illustrate the fighting.

    In this context as well, James says that some believers are adulterers and adulteresses (4:4).   Most commentaries say this is spiritual adultery, but in the context of the Greco-Roman world, it could be both physical as well as spiritual.   On the island of Delos, there were temples to a host of deities that would try to lure the believer away from the Lord Jesus Christ.   Some cults even used sexual immorality to attract people to it.   The most notable one on Delos would be the cult of Dionysos, the god of wine and merrymaking.   His shrine, called the Stoibadeion, was “a rectangular exedra which at both ends has a pillar which supported an oversize phallus, the symbol of Dionysos” (Zaphiropoulou 1993:32).   Dionysos was also discovered on mosaics in private houses on the island (1993:34-37).

    In the section on “slow to wrath”, James addresses the source of the problem, which is pride (4:6,10).   James goes on to describe the arrogant merchants as saying, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'” (4:13).   James reminds them that they don’t even know what tomorrow brings because life it like a vapor.   Most of the Jewish community on the island of Delos probably engaged in trade and commerce.   For the self-sufficient believer, this would strike home.

    After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, I was watching an interview with several New York firefighters.   One of them recalled the words of the chief chaplain of New York’s bravest, Mychal Judge, who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center.   He said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him what you are going to do tomorrow!”   This caught the essence of James 4:13-17.   In this passage, James describes the arrogant merchants who plan their buying and selling activities and anticipate a profit, yet they do not realize that life is like a vapor.   James admonishes them to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall do this or that” (4:15).   It is a humbling thought to realize Someone else holds our future!

    James goes on to address the rich in James 5:1-6.   During the Hellenistic period, Delos was a very wealthy island.   Several residential quarters of the city had very luxurious two and three story houses with beautiful mosaics and frescos on the walls.   There were farms on Delos that grew wheat and barley (Reger 1994:95-101).   James reflects the farmer / reaper who is being taken advantage of by the wealthy farm owner (5:4)

    In the final section of the book, James returns to the opening theme, trials and suffering (5:7-20).   He encourages the believers to have patience and look for the Lord’s return (5:7-12) and to be persistent in prayer (5:13-20).   In each of these sections, the believer on Delos has a decision to make, either to follow the Lord Jesus Christ or one of the deities on the island.

    In the first section, James encourages them to look for the Lord’s return and follow the example of the prophets.   Delos was famous as the birthplace of Apollo, the god of prophecy, poetry and music.   His temples stood in the center of the island.   An individual could go to his oracles to consult the future, but the believe in the Lord Jesus has a “more sure word of prophecy,” the Bible (II Pet. 1:19).   The prophetic Scriptures were given to encourage the believers to godly living, comfort in times of sorrow, and patience as the believer preservers through trials (I John 3:2,3; I Thess. 4:13-18; Rom. 8:18-30; Blackstone 1989: 181-183).

    James asks the question, “Is anyone among you sick?” (5:14).   Most of the people on the island would go to the Asclepion at the headlands of the Fourni Bay for healing (Zaphiropoulou 1993: 52).   James instructs the believers to “call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.   And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (5:14,15a).   The response of the believer would be different than the society around.


    The epistle of James was written by James the son of Zebedee (Bassett 1876), and not the half-brother of the Lord as most commentators suggest (Davids 1982: 2-7; Hiebert 1992: 24-32).   The view that James the son of Zebedee wrote the book is based on the internal content of the book and well as the word pictures.   Many of the statements in the epistle are based on the teachings of the Lord Jesus, primarily the Sermon on the Mount and parables given in Galilee.   James the son of Zebedee was an “ear witness” to these sayings.   Many of the word pictures that are used in the epistle are from the Sea of Galilee.   The authorship and date of the epistle will be discussed in greater length in another article.

    It is also believed that the epistle was written soon (one or two years) after Pentecost ( Shavuot) of AD 30 to encourage those believers in their new found faith in the Lord Jesus as they return to their family and friends in the Diaspora (Acts 2:8-11,41; James 1:1).   These early Hebrew-Christians (or Messianic Jews) met in the synagogue buildings until the break with their Jewish brethren (Acts 26:11).

    Archaeology and geography can add a third dimension to Biblical studies.   The black and white (and sometimes red!) letters on the pages of Scripture can be placed in a historical and geographical context that can be visualized.   The reader can say, “Now I see what the inspired writer is talking about.”   Just as the readers on Delos could “see” the word pictures used by James when they read the epistle, so we can as well.   Might we not just see the word pictures, but also apply them to our lives.   As James admonishes us, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (1:22).


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    1  This article is dedicated to my fellow travelers: Richard, Donna, Zion and Judy (June 4, 2002), Alan, Heather, John, Karin and Stephen (Oct. 26, 2002) who tromped all over the island of Delos with me and listened to my “crazy idea” on the epistle of James.

    [2] All Scripture quotes are from the NKJV.

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